“All of your power comes out of your feet,” says Steve Hess, strength coach for the Denver Nuggets. “If you want more effective speed and agility, you have to work on your feet and ankles. Studies show that doing exercises specifically for your feet can increase your vert.”
To work the Nuggets’ feet and ankles, Hess prescribes a 10-minute ballistic warm-up. Performing it three times a week strengthens the joints, increases flexibility and properly prepares the body for activity. According to Hess, the chemical reactions that occur when your body is warmed up help you increase your power output substantially. “It’s called the Q10 effect, and it’ll make your body 10 times more efficient and ready for physical activity,” he says. “When you get that second wind while jogging, you’re experiencing the Q10 effect.”
Seated Dorsi Flexion with Ankle Pull
Sit on a bench with one leg extended on it. Flex quad with your toes pointed toward your body. Hold position for 10-15 seconds, then relax. Partner then holds your ankle with one hand, places his other hand on your shin and gently pulls back and up on ankle. Perform 3 sets for each leg.
Coaching Point: This exercise not only works the quad as it flexes, it also stretches the hamstring, which helps prevent an athlete from tweaking his hamstring when he sprints. Pulling the ankle decompresses the joint, which puts more motion back into the joint. Ankles take a lot of impact—especially from basketball players—which means they can close up over time and lose range of motion.
Standing Calf Raise
With feet close together, rise onto your toes, moving only against your body weight. Do 10 reps slowly, working full range of motion, then do 8 reps quickly. Perform 3 sets.
Seated Dorsi Flexion with Band
Sit on bench with one leg extended. Flex quad and point toes toward your body, against band’s resistance. Move ankle forward and back. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps for each leg.
Coaching Point: This is similar to the Seated Dorsi Flex, but now you work against resistance instead of using an isometric hold.
Seated Inversion & Eversion with Band
Sit on bench with one leg extended. Point toes left, then right, against band’s resistance; stretch hamstring. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps each direction with each leg.
Incline Run with Cones
Place five cones in a line on a hill, 3 on the left and 2 on the right at 2, 2 ½, 3, 3 ½ and 4 feet apart. You can vary the distance based on your stride length. Sprint up the hill using the cones as markers for each foot strike.
Coaching Point: From the start, bring your foot up, then drive it into the ground so each stride gets progressively longer. Don’t start with a huge step—you’ll lose power. You want movement in your ankles, and motion and power in your feet.